Just a week after criticism erupted about an upstate puppy farm that kept its dogs outside in ice and snow, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would give local municipalities the power to adopt more stringent laws to regulate pet dealers.
With the possibility of more local regulation, animal rescuers are hopeful that more diligence will be taken to make sure breeders and pet stores follow healthier practices.
“I’m very pleased it finally passed—it’s been kicking around for a couple of years. It’s great there was finally political will in Albany to get it signed,” said Sara Davison, the executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. “No matter what we tried to do, we had no jurisdiction at the local level. No matter how New York State regulates, you expect there to be puppy stores, but this gives municipalities, counties and towns the ability to focus on the issues more closely and make changes they feel appropriate to reduce any suffering of puppies by potentially looking at where puppies are sourced,” Ms. Davison said.
Just last Sunday, ARF got in a shipment of dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Indiana.
Twenty-six dogs were matted, sick, hurt and terrified.
“They all showed the classic signs of a puppy mill: part of the group had very bad ear infections, they were matted, some had splayed feet because they had been standing in a wire cage and had very long nails,” Ms. Davison said. “Some of them were transported by the breeder in cramped conditions and some were shoved in crates together, so there were fights. Some of them had wounds.”
Ms. Davison said all the dogs are doing well now. They have been bathed, shaved, clipped, spayed and neutered. Now, ARF will work to rehabilitate them to get them ready for adoption.
With local municipalities free to introduce even tougher laws while the state continues to enforce its own, the hope is to make it so that the animals are kept in good health, from breeder to puppy store.
Dr. Teri Meekins, the clinical director and veterinarian of the Southampton Animal Shelter, is a member of a new Suffolk County board that inspects and grades puppy stores.
She and other animal experts, including Ms. Davison, were appointed to the board by County Legislator William Spencer to evaluate stores so that the health and wellness of the animals they house and sell are up to par. As of right now, the evaluation is on a volunteer basis, meaning that stores can sign up to be checked. Those that pass with flying colors would get a certificate saying so.
But Ms. Davison and Dr. Meekins said they hope with the new legislation such evaluations could become mandatory.
“I think we could have an impact in Suffolk County by ensuring that puppies are not in wire cages, but in nice, dry, firm cases with solid footing,” Ms. Davison said. “Some puppies are displayed as hamsters in cages with wheels to get exercise. That tells you how much the dog is getting out to get exercise.”
She said proper labeling of each cage with the puppy’s date of birth, where it is from and what breed it is would help examiners see whether it is a puppy mill dog and if it has been treated as it should.
Such a requirement would have to be pushed through locally, Ms. Davison said. New York State does inspect pet stores; however, a local law would control how often.
Dr. Meekins said that she’s hoping for stricter laws for backyard breeders and puppy mills, so strict that puppy mills are driven out of the state.
According to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, while the entire state of Connecticut has 16 pet stores that sell puppies, Suffolk County alone has 25 stores that sell puppies.
“We still have to pressure our local government,” Dr. Meekins said. “This is a step in the right direction for sure, but now there’s work to be done—4.7 million animals are euthanized in the U.S. every year. Now there’s pressure from local animal advocates to get these puppy mills out of our state.”
Ms. Davison said the key to stopping puppy mills would be through better regulation and cutting off some of the demand. She said if demand decreased then the supply would decrease too.
Unfortunately, there are lives that have to pay for bad decisions and the lack of regulation, like ARF’s new rescues.
Fortunately, there are people there to right the wrongs.
“They’re starting to walk on leashes and getting used to what life is like outside of a cage, and we have a great group of volunteers coming in to care for them,” Ms. Davison said. “They’re making good headway.”